Building A Business On Sewing
How’s your Japanese? Aside from ordering my favourite items at a sushi restaurant, “dozo” is pretty much all I know. (I learned that when I worked as a hostess at fine-dining restaurant Joe Fortes in Vancouver, which has a lot of Japanese tourists.) I had the chance to brush up on my Japanese recently when business magazine WizBiz, the go-to for Japanese entrepreneurs and business professionals, asked me about starting a business and overcoming obstacles. Here’s the article online, but in case your Japanese reading skills aren’t quite polished, I’ve pasted below the questions the editor sent me along with my responses. (But to be honest, I’m not sure what kind of edits were made before publication).
1) What inspired you to start a sewing class at your apt? I started sewing when I was 13 years old and fell in love with it right away. I would always sew for myself, and I started sewing for others. Eventually people started asking me to teach them how to sew. I knew I wanted to share my passion with others by teaching sewing, but because I worked as a magazine editor, I knew the only way I could fit it into my schedule was to create my own classes.
2) At that time did you expect that you would launch a sewing business in the near future? I wasn’t expecting or even hoping to turn my sewing classes into a business. They started as a passion, continued as a hobby, and slowly grew into a business.
3) How many people gathered for the first class? I ran two classes at the beginning (in September, 2004), and each class had three students. They were friends and co-workers, all with an interest in sewing.
4) What were their purposes and motivations? What did they want to sew themselves? My first students, much like the students we teach at The Sewing Studio New York today, were interested in learning the basics of sewing and building a solid sewing foundation. They want to understand how to use a sewing machine, they want to mend and alter existing garments, and they want to create projects from scratch, whether they’re clothes, simple home décor pieces, or craft projects such as bags and accessories.
5) Before you started this business, were there any sewing schools in Canada or the US? There were a few places that offered sewing classes back when I started, but none in Canada who focused only on teaching sewing. Most combined sewing with other crafts or with other fibre arts, or their main focus of the business was the sale of sewing machines or fabric. We focused on teaching sewing right from the start.
6) In Japan, when I was in junior high school, we learned basic sewing skills at school. In the US or Canada, how do people learn sewing or no that kind of opportunities? There are fewer and fewer schools each year that offer sewing as part of the curriculum across the US and Canada. I’m very lucky that my school (in Vancouver, Canada) offered home economics starting from grade eight, so I was able to learn a lot and could also continue learning to sew through high school. Unfortunately, that’s not common. Many schools have removed that portion of education, so there are a lot of people who have never learned how to sew.
7) Mr. Takayasu [the editor is referring to the President of Janome US] told me that the sewing machine market is divided in two; ones with very basic functions with reasonable prices and high-end multi-functioned ones. Which machine users are your students? Our students —beginner sewers or those looking to refresh their knowledge and their skills— prefer the basic sewing machines with reasonable prices as a starting point. Once they’ve grown their skills and have been enjoying sewing for some time, they start exploring more advanced machines with more elaborate features.
8) Did you have a big momentum to expand your business? The business grew slowly and steadily as more classes were added and more students signed up.
9) Did you advertise or how did you collect students? Most of our students were acquired through word of mouth in the beginning. And then people started finding us online through searches or through online Google ads that we posted.
10) What type of people come to learn sewing at New York studio? Why did you choose Times Square in New York to open a studio? We see a wide variety of students who come to learn from us at The Sewing Studio New York. A lot are working professional women (25-35) who want to learn something new, or they’re going through a big life change (buying their first home, having their first child, getting married, etc.) and they want to learn how to sew as a basic life skill. (The classes are in Chelsea, which is south of Times Square. We’re near Madison Square Garden.) I chose to open a location in New York following Toronto because the demographic is similar. Both cites are filled with cosmopolitan women interested in learning something new, being more creative, and participating in a variety of activities after work. As for where The Sewing Studio is situated, I sought a location that was central and easily accessible by public transit for both local students and those coming in from out of town.
11) Who are teaching sewing at classes? Our instructors are all passionate sewers, most have been sewing since they were very young, and most have a degree in fashion from the country’s top sewing schools.
12) Please explain the services: Open Studio Time and Sewing Party. Open Studio Time is a drop-in service where students can use our machines and space as needed. Sewing parties are private parties where we teach a group of students (it’s often birthday parties, bachelorettes, corporate events, etc) how to sew and we walk everyone through the same project in one afternoon or evening.
13) How many studios have you open so far? Where are you planning to expand your business to? We had three locations in Toronto at one point plus our New York studio, but have now pared down to just one location in New York City. For now, our focus is on continuing to grow New York and also products that will allow anyone anywhere to join us and learn. (We have a learn-to-sew DVD series that includes everything from our most popular class, and we have a reference book called Mend & Make Fabulous that walks people through basic mending and alteration techniques plus DIY ways for enhancing existing garments.)
14) What retail items do you sell? At The Sewing Studio, we sell fabric, sewing supplies, sewing machines, and irons, plus some of our favourite books and products including the LoveSewing DVD series and Mend & Make Fabulous.
15) What were most difficult challenges that you have had to overcome while running your business? The biggest challenge is constantly changing and staying on our toes in order to keep ahead of any competition.
16) What’s new with your enterprise? What’s on the horizon? We’re currently adding more specialty workshops and more retail products based on what our students are looking for. And we’re developing more digital products as well, all to reach a wider audience.